Home Town or Home Community:
Colonsay, Meacham, Saskatoon
The Dave & Stella Nickel Family Story
By the time Benjamin was one, he had received a drum set and golf clubs. Some family members are hoping for a musician. Others are clearly in favour of a professional athlete. Papa Nickel, on the other hand, wants a plumber! A plumber does seem an odd choice for a child’s future aspirations. However, it could have just as easily been a farmer….
David Nickel was born on a farm outside of Colonsay, SK, in 1928. The middle son of German immigrants had 8 other siblings to contend and content himself with as he passed from childhood into his youth, through the joys and trials of farm life in the first half of the twentieth century. Poverty was a way of life, not only for his family, but for others around them as well. His parents had come to Canada in search of a new life although unaware what it had in store for them. Despite numerous attempts to forge a life on the prairies, the Nickel family turned it’s eyes westward, and at the age of 17, the whole family re-settled in British Columbia. Dave’s eyes may have been facing west, but his heart was calling him home to Saskatchewan. After only two years, Dave left his family in BC and returned home to Colonsay, where a beautiful young girl sat waiting, unaware of the life that awaited her.
Stephanie (Stella) Kielbicki was born on 23 April 1931 on a farm north of Meacham, SK. Stella was the youngest child of Polish immigrants who had first landed in Montreal before heading west to Saskatchewan and the vastness of opportunities the wide-open prairie offered. As the youngest of ten children, Stella remembers being pampered and cared for, not only by her parents, but by her older siblings as well. She too experienced incredible poverty as her father and mother struggled to sustain a large family on a meager income offered from farming. While money may have been in short supply, love and laughter abounded in their tiny home. Celebration with music and dancing were a not uncommon occurrence and worked to break up the dreariness and isolation of a long, cold Saskatchewan winter. And it was celebration that brought Dave to Stella and solidified a bond for two young strangers.
Stella was only 17 as she prepared to attend the wedding of her older brother Tony. She took care to look her best, merely out of custom and excitement for the day to come, all the while unknowing she was about to meet her future husband. Meanwhile, Dave had recently returned home to Saskatchewan from BC and was picking up odd jobs as a farm hand. In his spare time, he and his friend Henry attended as many dances as they could, as Dave loved to dance. So naturally, when Henry’s sister was about to marry a certain Tony Kielbicki, Henry invited Dave along to join in on the celebration. Although Dave didn’t have an official invitation, he accepted as weddings were always a good time. As he sat in the church watching the wedding ceremony, he glanced over and noticed a beautiful girl. He had never seen her before and was naturally curious who this beauty was. While he didn’t have a chance to talk to her then, he asked her to dance at the reception, and it was then Dave knew this was the woman he was meant to be with. Stella, too, remembers feeling a lightness with Dave, something she hadn’t felt with any boy before. Their courtship began soon after, and needless to say, Dave didn’t go to anymore dances after that. Not unless he was accompanied by the love of his life. From that day forward, he knew there was only one woman he would dance the rest of his life with.
Dave and Stella were married on a beautiful autumn day on 6 October 1951. The wedding was small but intimate. After their celebration they set out to make their life together. Both had come from farming families so it was natural that they proceeded to establish themselves as farmers as well. Dave had been working on the Chesley farm as a farm-hand and the Chesley’s happened to have a little farmhouse on their land, perfect for a young couple just starting out. With some hard work and a little of Stella’s style and finesse, they turned the little house into a lovely home. And it was here that they brought home their first child, a boy, born 13 April 1953 and christened him Gary David Nickel.
Now a farm was a lovely place for a boy to play, but Mr. Chesley was getting older and didn’t see as well. Both Dave and Stella were concerned for Gary’s safety when Mr. Chesley drove his truck or the farm machinery because he was often unaware of his surroundings. Dave and Stella had been saving diligently to buy a farm of their own, but when Dave was swindled out of some land by his own employer, his mind was made up. It was time for he and his family to move on.
As luck would have it, Dave was offered a job driving a gas truck in Colonsay. As Dave grew up there, and much of Stella’s family lived close by, they decided on a move to Colonsay. This was a good life. They had a nice little house and their lives were full with family and good friends. But Dave wasn’t satisfied. There was no future for him here. He liked to work with his hands and was a hard-worker. As he pondered what the future held for him, he began to think about work in a trade.
It was the 1950s. The war was over, and although looming hostilities remained globally, life in Canada was booming. There was money to be made, but Dave just needed to figure out how. The one thing he did know, the world was becoming increasingly urban and in order to pursue his dreams and provide for his family, Dave knew he had to leave small-town Saskatchewan behind and pursue other interests in the city. Neither Dave nor Stella had ever lived in the city but they had visited many times. It was a different life than either of them knew, but Stella agreed with Dave, in order to make a life for themselves, something more than a simple house on rented land, they needed to tap into the resources a larger center provided. And business ventures aside, their family had grown by one. Their daughter, Susan Margaret, was born 8 January 1958. Thus, as the small family grew, so did Dave’s desire to provide them with a life that was beyond the poverty he himself had experienced.
While Dave and Stella were both still very young in 1959 when they made the move to Saskatoon, their experiences thus far had taught them a few things. Primarily, they did not want to rent their home from someone else. They wanted to put their money into a home that was theirs. And that is exactly what they did. They built their first home at 323 Taylor St E. But a mortgage was expensive and as Stella was a homemaker and Dave an apprenticing plumber, they needed to devise another means to supplement their income. Their house was small to begin with, but they decided it was necessary to sacrifice what little extra space they had and created a suite at the back of their house. With this smart business solution, they not only created a means to lighten a financial burden, but developed a long-lasting and meaningful friendship with another young couple just starting out, John and Eileen Penner.
The city certainly offered more employment opportunity and in 1959, Dave began work as a plumber for Acme Plumbing. Always sociable, Dave enjoyed plumbing as he was able to work hard but interact with people at the same time. Despite his love of the work and Stella’s joy of raising a family, they both wanted something more, and they began to ponder the rewards and freedom of entrepreneurship. For years they saved. They both recall how choice and sacrifice played into their desire to own their own business. For Stella, this meant it was necessary to employ creativity to meet the family’s needs. She was a fabulous cook and made most of what she served from scratch. She also learned to sew from her older sisters and made much of the clothing she and the children wore. Dave remembers the allure of a ‘drink’ Friday after payday and was often invited along for a beer, but unlike many co-workers and acquaintances, he always turned them down, eyes and heart homeward bound. With a family at home and the promise of his own business one day, Dave felt his dollars were better served in the bank than in the beer parlour.
While Dave and Stella worked hard and spent little, it did not mean their lives were dreary or without meaning. From the time Gary and Susan were small children, the family had begun vacationing in Waskesui for a week every summer. Their memories are fond of the park and the many summers spent with family in the small rental cabins. With fall came a return to school, and Gary attended Queen Elizabeth Elementary School as it was within walking distance of their home. Fall and winter was also a time of celebration with family gatherings occurring for Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. Many of Stella’s siblings lived in or around Saskatoon and thus, Gary and Susan had many cousins to play with, and the importance of family was always emphasized within their home. Dave and Stella had also made many good friends since moving to Saskatoon and would often have card tournaments; Kaiser, of course!
Through the years, Dave and Stella had lost their parents and many relatives, but tragedy struck closer to home when Susan came down with a fever before she was even one. Stella attended to her every minute, but when the fever refused to break after two days, she took Susan to the doctor. She was rushed to the hospital immediately, but despite their best attempts, the fever had wreaked havoc on Susan’s little body and she ultimately suffered permanent brain damage. While this was devastating news, Dave and Stella were still able to count their blessings, as she was alive. Physically, Susan recovered completely in time. And while doctor’s said her body would continue to grow and develop healthily, her mental and emotional state would not. In the early 1960s, Susan was termed ‘retarded,’ but both Stella and Dave persevered and were determined that Susan would get an education and receive all the things in life any other child would. Regardless of society’s biases to those considered disabled, Dave and Stella insisted that Susan be treated like everyone else. In a time where there were little to no services for peoples with disabilities, Stella had her hands full balancing a home, Gary’s interests in swimming, guitar and other sports, and Susan’s need for constant attention. At the end of most days, she was exhausted, but Stella and Dave would not be deterred from their goal of owning and operating their own business.
After years of saving, their goal was reached, and in 1968, Dave and Stella began operating their own plumbing business under the name Nickel Plumbing and Heating. It was undoubtedly a gamble as they had invested all their savings in the business, and if it failed, they would be in trouble financially. So Dave set to work making business contacts and performing the manual labour, while Stella took care of the accounting, answered phones and acted as office manager. Between their hard work and community involvement, Nickel Plumbing established itself with a steady and regular clientele, including some large contracts such as the Exhibition grounds and Eaton’s. While they were able to attract clientele, it was their commitment to superior service and honest and fair work that sustained their business and ensured it would grow into the future.
Professionally, they had established themselves within their community, but since moving to Saskatoon, they had personally invested themselves in their community as well. They attended All Saints Anglican Church from 1959 on. Always active members within their parish, they worked to make church a satisfying experience for all parishioners. From their warm and friendly smiles, to their work at pancake suppers and Sunday tea, Dave and Stella worked to ensure that church was not only a place to worship God, but also where community was celebrated and embraced.
Stella spent years as a volunteer in the pediatric ward at the Royal University Hospital. She had always loved children and thus volunteered to read stories, visit and hopefully brighten the day of a sick child. As well, the whole Nickel family, Dave, Stella, Gary and Susan, were involved with Cosmopolitan Industries from its beginning. Stella had been a strong advocate for the initiation of the project in order that people with intellectual disabilities could also contribute to their community and experience the sense of purpose work can bring.
As their business flourished, Dave eventually hired an office manager, as well as employees to work alongside him in his business. The family moved twice, first to 319 Taylor St E, and eventually built their dream home at 2011 Melrose Ave. And goodness knows the extra space was important as their family was growing….
After Gary graduated grade 12 from Aden Bowman Collegiate, he attended the University of Saskatchewan for two years, but his heart was not in it. From the time he was a young teenager, Gary had worked alongside Dave at the shop during summers and on weekends during the school year. Much like his father, Gary enjoyed the mix of hard work and social interaction plumbing could bring. Dave was very proud to have his son follow in his footsteps, and once Gary attained his Journeyman’s Degree in plumbing, Dave began grooming him to take over the business. While Stella was always proud of her son, she was also a bit dismayed that he did not want to finish his university education. University was a privilege neither she nor Dave could afford. Therefore, she had spent her adult life determined that this would not be the case for her son. But money was not the issue. Rather, Gary had decided plumbing was to be his career and as it turned out, it led him to his future in more ways than one.
One Friday, after a long work week in 1973, Gary decided to join his co-workers for a beer at the Bessborough Hotel’s lounge. Most of the men were young and single, and thus, when a group of women walked in, they took notice. Conversation took hold, and Gary began talking to a hairdresser named Wendy Roach. She, too, was there with co-workers from her beauty salon. There was an immediate connection and it was not long before Gary was seriously considering marriage.
Wendy was from Biggar, SK. She had grown up in a small house with two brothers and one sister. Most of her family had settled in Biggar and so it was on 27 July1974, Gary and Wendy were married in the Anglican Church in Biggar, SK. Wendy’s mother made her dress and their wedding was celebrated firstly, the day of their wedding and then secondly, a week later, in Saskatoon, by Dave and Stella’s friends and relatives. Because both Gary and Wendy worked in Saskatoon, it was natural they bought their first home there, on 7th St E.
They were married only a few years before the birth of their first son, David Michael, on 6 February 1978. David was the apple of Stella’s eye and was the first grandchild in both Wendy and Gary’s families. This did not last long however, as Wendy and Gary both knew they wanted a large family. Thus, David was followed closely by his brother, Derek Stephan, born 18 January 1980. Their small house on 7th St no longer sufficed and they bought their family home at 2522 Dufferin Ave. Close to schools, work, and Dave and Stella, the home was perfect for the young couple and their growing family. David and Derek were followed by another brother, Gary Matthew, born 28 April 1982, and, finally, a baby sister, Stacey Christine, born 24 February 1985.
By the time Stacey was born Gary had bought most of the business from his father, and Wendy had left hairdressing to be a full-time homemaker and care-giver to their four children. Their lives were full. All three boys eventually played hockey, along with basketball, swimming, and by high school, football. Stacey also played sports, in and out of school, and took dance lessons as well. With four very busy children, Wendy and Gary received a tremendous amount of help from Dave and Stella, who were always more than happy to help in any way they could. The entire family continued to attend All Saints Anglican Church, and Sundays were a special time, as they would all convene at Dave and Stella’s for lunch after the service. ‘Grandma and Grandpa’s’ home was always filled with good food, laughter and love. From very humble beginnings, Dave and Stella’s family had thrived, and despite obstacles, they had succeeded in their goals.
As Dave slowly took himself out of the business, Dave and Stella were able to enjoy the fruit of their hard work. They traveled much within Canada, visiting family in Ontario and on the West Coast. They also visited the United States on several occasions and spent many beautiful vacations in Las Vegas and Palm Springs. But perhaps their favourite tourist spot was Hawaii which they visited over a dozen times in their life. And with four young grandchildren, they also purchased a cabin at Pike Lake Provincial Park which the family enjoyed for years. Summer was a carefree time for all four children, between living at the cabin at Pike Lake and visiting Waskesui (a family tradition which their father had now handed down to them) they were surrounded by loving family and friends and enjoyed the finer things in life thanks to the hard work of their parents and grandparents.
As the grandchildren grew, Dave and Stella eventually sold the cabin at Pike Lake. Teenagers became less interested in spending time with their grandparents and more with friends. However, Dave and Stella remained a focal point for the family, and thus, when their oldest grandson, David, brought home his girlfriend to meet his family, it was only natural he would want to introduce her to his grandparents as well. While only 16 at the time, David and Jennifer spent much time with his family, including time with Dave and Stella, visiting, playing cards and eating, of course!
As the children grew, Gary and Wendy took the family on many vacations. They usually spent a winter holiday skiing in Montana or British Columbia, and in 1991 the family went to Florida for two weeks, and all the kids agree it was a highlight of their childhood. In 1995, the family visited Hawaii for the first time and they all loved it so much, they returned for another vacation a year later. Vacations were always an enjoyable time, mostly because it was an opportunity for the family to be together.
David, the oldest of the children, graduated in 1996 from Aden Bowman. The only one of the children, to date, to pursue university education, he graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with his Bachelor of Arts in Business Economics. While all of the children spent time working alongside their father and grandfather at Nickel Plumbing and Heating, Derek was the only one to follow in his father’s footsteps and obtained his Journeyman’s Degree in plumbing in 2002. While Dave and Stella, and Gary and Wendy are proud of all the children, it is heartening for the family to know the success of Dave’s humble plumbing business will continue to grow for at least one more generation.
Gary Matthew knew at a young age that plumbing was not for him and instead gravitated towards the arts and perceived himself more as an entertainer than a labourer. He completed his broadcasting course through the Western Academy of Broadcasting in 2001 and upon completion, has worked in several different radio stations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He currently works for Saskatchewan’s largest radio station, Rawlco Radio, and intends to venture into television broadcasting with an emphasis on sports journalism.
Stacey is a recent graduate of Aden Bowman having finished her diploma in 2003. She has tried several different jobs but is currently working for SaskPower as a labourer and thoroughly enjoys this work. Very much like her father and grandfather before her, she enjoys working physically hard while still interacting with the public and has a million-watt smile and her grandfather’s charming personality.
The past ten years have been ones of joy and contentment for the Nickel family. In 2003, David married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer, and on 27 August 2004, the family welcomed their fourth generation, Benjamin David Wilcox Nickel, into their loving embrace. After completing his university degree, David realized he did not want a desk job for the rest of his life, nor did he want to perform the grueling labour involved in plumbing. His sociable and compassionate nature led him to pursue a career in firefighting and, to date, is waiting to hear from the Manitoba Emergency Service’s College in Brandon Manitoba, where he will attend firefighting school. Jennifer is currently working on her Master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of History. Both parents are very busy, but never too busy for the light of their lives, Benjamin.
Derek continues to bring his skill, and commitment to fair and good quality work, to Nickel Plumbing and will one day take over the business from his father, just as Gary did before him. While David married his high school sweetheart, it took Derek a few more tries to find the person he wanted to share his life with. But in 2002 he met a gorgeous blonde who not only shone from the outside, but radiated from within as well. In February 2005, Derek asked Jill McPherson to marry him. She said yes and the family anxiously awaits their wedding in the summer of 2007 (probably!).
Gary Matthew continues to work in Saskatoon as a broadcaster. He spent three months in the fall of 2004 in Australia and looks forward to future traveling. He particularly hopes his career will take him around the globe in order to cover major sporting events for TSN. As of yet, Gary has no plans to marry, and, in fact, would need to settle on just one girl for any length of time before that could happen. However, he is quite content to live the life of an eligible bachelor for now.
Stacey spends much of her time working, but also looks forward to some globetrotting once she finds some time away from work. When she does finally peel herself away, she is very active and enjoys sports and running. And like her brother, Gary Matthew, is happy to be an eligible bachelorette. Like all the kids, Stacey continues to make family a priority and it is very rare for the family not to get together at least once a week for a meal.
Gary and Wendy are currently smothering their only grandchild with as much love as he can stand and can’t wait for more! Wendy spends most weekdays caring for Benjamin while David and Jennifer are at work. Gary continues to work full-time at Nickel, but has begun grooming Derek for his eventual retirement. Spring and summer are occupied with golf almost every day at the Willows Golf and Country Club, as well as short getaways to friend’s cabins and Waskesui, of course! The long, cold winters are broken up a bit by a winter holiday, usually to Mexico where they are able to enjoy the sun, and yes, do more golfing.
Susan continues to work at Cosmopolitan Industries. She takes part in many activities outside of work including bowling, and yearly visits to summer camp. She lives part-time at Elmwood Lodge and part-time at home with her mom and dad.
As for Dave and Stella, they don’t travel as much anymore, and are quite happy to content themselves with home, family and their garden, which they spend countless hours attending to every season except for winter. They will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary in 2006 and will be accompanied by their loving family. From very humble beginnings, the couple managed to raise two children, advocate for the rights of the disabled and bring forth a very successful plumbing business. They are pillars of strength within their community and family, and have much to be proud of. However, if you asked them today, undoubtedly they would tell you their greatest accomplishment is the birth of a loving family; a family that plays together, works together and loves together. While Dave and Stella have seen many things in their lifetime, from the global turmoil of war to the global village created by the internet, they have watched their children grow with integrity; they have seen their grandchildren blossom into individuals with character and uniqueness; and now have seen the birth of their fourth generation, their great-grandson, who proudly bears their name, their roots, and their history. And Benjamin will learn, as we all have, the importance of family, and the roots that have grown from within this prairie land.